19 February 2006

Religious Education and Youth Ministry Resources -- What's Happening Next and What's Available Now?

On another blog, the following observation was made about available resources for religious education and youth ministry:
I'm not sure the UUA has much to offer any UU congregation right now in these last two areas. RE materials? -- UUA hasn't really published anything of value in over a decade, aside from Our Whole Lives (which was developed in cooperation with the UCC). Youth ministry? -- lots of congregations, of all theological persuasions, have been finding little of value in district and denominational youth programming.
I would like to have more curriculum resources available (who wouldn't?), but I wonder if folks are really aware of the Unitarian Universalist resources we currently have today in our districts and in our denomination for religious education and youth ministry.

During the 90s, I suspect that much of the denominational work in religious education curriculum development was directed towards the Our Whole Lives (OWL) lifespan series. Other than OWL Grades 7-9 [which served as an update and replacement for the 70s era About Your Sexuality (AYS) program], there really wasn't a good "state of the art" lifespan sexuality education series for use in liberal religious settings. And OWL is something that our faith community should be proud about. We didn't just develop a good curriculum for use in our congregations. We developed something that many secular community sexuality educators consider to be the best curriculum currently available (based on comments from SIECUS and Planned Parenthood folks I've met and worked with).

You're probably saying "well ... sex education is great but we need other resources in our congregations" for lifespan religious education resources and youth ministry resources. A large part of this is the new Tapestry of Faith series (link requires Adobe Acrobat reader).
"Embodying a faith development focus for our congregations, Tapestry of Faith is a series of programs and resources for all ages that nurture Unitarian Universalist identity, spiritual growth, a transforming faith, and vital communities of justice and love."
This Tapestry of Faith will include:
  • age-appropriate programs for children, youth, and adults of all ages, including young adults
  • resources for parents to support them in their role as the primary religious educators of their children
  • resources for teachers to support them in their role as facilitators of faith development
  • resources for religious professionals to support them in their role as nurturers of communities of lifespan religious growth and learning.
The really cool thing about this is many of the Tapestry resources will be published online for free download and use by congregations and other UU communities. Folks using these downloaded resources will be encouraged to provide feedback for further revision. In other words, the UUA is using a "spiral development" model with this new curriculum project. Spiral development is often used in software engineering and other technology projects. Here's a summary of what spiral development is:
"Because software engineers all too often designed and built large software programs with little ongoing consultation from customers, the resulting programs did not meet the end-user requirements or were delayed by unforeseen obstacles. Boehm stressed a cyclical approach in which customers evaluated early results and in-house engineers identified potential trouble spots at an early stage."
Between 2006 and 2011, we will start receiving Tapestry of Faith resources as online resources available for every Unitarian Universalist congregation who wants them.

The other resources that are currently provided by the Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group (current name for what was formerly called the "Religious Education Department") may not be curriculum-related but there is value here for UU congregations in that they support congregational religious education. Here's what you can find on their web page today:

  • Resource Lists: Includes resources such as curricula, books, organizations, and websites for elected topics
  • Children, Families and Current Events: Links to resources
  • Families: Resources for spiritual development, education, social justice, and connection between congregation and home
  • Loan Library: Loans curricula and other lifespan religious education resources for a two-week period
  • Email Lists: E-mail discussion lists on a range of faith development topics
Teacher Development
  • Teacher Development Survey: Reports generated from the Teacher Development Survey of religious educators conducted by the UUA in the fall of 2004
  • Framing Teaching: Models of Teacher Development -- perspectives on how to frame teaching as spiritual development
  • Understanding Learners: Materials to better understand children, youth and adults as evolving and developing individuals. Includes resources on human development and paths of faith and spiritual growth
  • Sustaining Teachers: Practical resources developed in congregations that help sustain teaching
  • Supporting Teachers: Resources, including covenants and behavior guidelines, which strengthen communities and support teaching
  • Teaching as Social Justice Work: Resources on social justice and religious education -- "branches of the same tree" -- for and about teachers and learners
  • Enriching Teaching: Resources for and about families, faith and worship that can enrich the experience of teaching in faith
Regarding the comment about finding little value in district and denominational youth programming, I can only speak from my experience in the Southwest District and your experiences with youth ministry may be different in your district.

The SW District YRUU Rallies ("rallies" are what our district calls "cons") and SWUUSI Youth Camp don't meet the needs of every UU youth in our district.

I don't think it's realistic to expect that any district or denominational program will meet the needs of every Unitarian Universalist youth. But a very large percentage of our youth in the SW District find YRUU and SWUUSI Youth Camp to be a religious experience that is very hard to duplicate in their home congregations. And this includes youth in my own congregation and youth in my household.

The various UUA Youth Office-sponsored trainings that I've attended in my district (Youth Advisor Training, Leadership Development Conference, Spirituality Development Conference) have all been worthwhile for youth advisor work at local and district events. If I had to take one and only one advisor training workshop, I would choose the Leadership Development Conference as it provides the best mix of resources and materials for the new advisor.

Finally, some of the best youth advisor training that I've had happens during SW District YRUU events. Out-of-town events allow inexperienced advisors to learn from experienced advisors and see an effective model of youth-adult partnership.

Now, folks may have different experiences with youth ministry in their own districts. If you're finding that your district's youth ministry and programs are not meeting your needs, you may want to check out the "JAHNNY DEPP" program (Joining And Helpfully Networking Neighboring YACs District Exchange Program Packet -- if nothing else, it's an impressive attempt at constructing an acronym). JAHNNY DEPP allows youth and advisors to visit other districts and see how they do things and bring these ideas back to their home districts.

It seems to me that it's "fashionable" for a lot of UU bloggers to gripe about how the UUA basically "sucks" -- however, I think a lot of this criticism overlooks the good work being done by volunteers working on behalf of the UUA and their districts, district staff, and UUA staff.

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